How often are your nearly perfect plans interrupted by something that requires time and energy to navigate getting back on track? Life gives us many unique twists and turns as we ride the wave in both our personal and professional lives. Our resiliency to changing events is a cornerstone in our overall stress level.
If you are like me, I found my stress level increasing just a little bit more each year, with each major product I was delivering. In some cases, I would hit a home run, where everything worked out better than I could have imagined. In others, I felt like I was getting a solid F! What was happening? Was it me? Was it my coworkers or my organization? Why can’t we hit home runs all the time?
We all want to have a positive impact, know that our life mattered, and feel respected for our efforts. This drive to make a difference is what keeps us charged, motivated, and joyful. The downside is when we start to feel as though it wasn’t enough, we didn’t try hard enough, or we aren’t perfect…enough.
Not being able to meet our expectations inherently causes conflict. The tension occurs when circumstances (both real and perceived) seem to prevent us from delivering the quality we strive for. It’s either good, or it’s bad. We did it right, or it was just plain wrong. I was successful, or I failed. Does this binary, all-or-nothing thinking resonate with you? If it does, then you may have perfectionist tendencies.
Perfectionism is generally defined as a combination of working towards excellence, often referred to as “strivings”, in combination with negative, self-flogging traits called “concerns”. Perfectionist concerns disable us from seeing any good when we did not meet expectations. These perfectionist concerns are often the repeated comments that silently play over and over, reprimanding us on how we could have or should have done it better.
The question is; how stressful is it to you when things don’t work out as you expected? Do you see an opportunity to learn, or the end of the world? On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with your efforts? This number doesn’t need to be shared. It’s for you and you alone, so there is no need to be too humble or too cocky.
In my own journey, when I began to intently focus on just accepting what was happening to me instead of trying to control it, two things happened. I started to feel more relaxed. And, I began to notice both my desires and worries actually manifesting themselves in my life (an unexpected byproduct of accepting things as they are). The more I paid attention to this, the more I saw my thoughts became reality. Both the positive and negative energy we expend on our thoughts benefit us in tangibly positive and negative ways. The phrase “be careful what you wish for” is true! Being a perfectionist, I used to struggle with the concept that I wasn’t in complete control over how my life turned out. In many instances, my perfectionism was blinding me to the beauty of organic grace.
Jim Loehr authored “The Power of Story: Change your Story, Change your Destiny in Business and in Life”. In that book, he discusses how when looking in the rear-view mirror the seemingly random events of our lives connect. Does everything in life happen for a reason? In unison with your religious or spiritual beliefs (or regardless of them as the case may be), think about how your past experiences have affected your present life. Do you see a connection? Do you have any memories of wishing so much that something would happen, and it DID? Was that luck? (Please share your own story below!)
If there is even a whisper of faith that life is about more than good and bad luck, a world of opportunity opens. What would you do if you knew…if you believed that focused intentions actually make a difference in your life? How would those previously unexpected, unappreciated circumstances now appear to you? Would you still see completing a project past the due date, not delivering the quality you expected, actually getting fired from a job, ending a relationship, and even losing someone you loved in the same stressful, frustrated, robbed or betrayed ways you had before?
“Making Perfect People Better: An Engineer’s Analysis of Perfectionism” will echo the understanding that our old, limiting thinking can be transformed in ways to authentically live a happier life. The first half further defines perfectionism, and discusses it from different perspectives (like country culture, occupation, narcissism, codependence, etc.). The last half lays an intricate framework of steps to investigate knowing that being aware is half the battle.
Laurie Peterson is the founder of New Horizon Strategies, LLC. New Horizon Strategies offers professional coaching, consulting, and facilitation to individuals, teams, and organizations experiencing transition, investigating discrete improvement, and holistically addressing strategic planning. Laurie also facilitates intensives focused on perfectionism using Dr. Brené Brown’s research.